Since I started working as a Bookseller, one of my greatest discoveries that catapulted me into my love of Teen and YA Fiction today was Michael Grant’s GONE series (at the time, just three books strong). Whilst his follow up series, BZRK, didn’t fully absorb me as much as those did, I still enjoyed them, and so when a very elaborate box arrived for me one morning at the shop bearing the mark of Electric Monkey, one of the best Teen publishers around, I was overjoyed to find an ARC of book one of Grant’s newest series – the mysterious and enigmatic Messenger of Fear. With nothing to go on but the promise that comes with this author, I soon dove in headfirst.
A girl wakes in a fog bound field, with no memories. Her name, her parents, everything about her past life is completely missing as she regains consciousness in this eerie and supernatural environment. Soon, she realises that she’s not alone in the sentient mists, and she meets a tall, pale, impossibly attractive young man – The Messenger. His quiet, distantly sad nature immediately strikes a chord with her, but he refuses to tell her anything about her past, inviting her instead to accompany him on a journey through the mists, and through time, backwards throughout the miserable final days of teenage suicide victim Samantha Early. The two of them jump back and forth through the bullying and isolation the girl feels, unable to do anything but observe Samantha’s pain and loneliness. Eventually, the protagonist, Mara, is lead by the Messenger to judge the crimes of cruel or misguided teenagers, observing and offering them a chance for redemption from what they have done. The teenagers are given the chance to play for their salvation, a game based on their very deepest, darkest fears. The winners go free; the losers are damned for eternity. Mara must learn to read their hearts, to pull out their just actions and their worst crimes, as she slowly realises she’s being trained to become a new Messenger of Fear, thrown headfirst into a world she barely understands, with no knowledge of how she stumbled into it. The Messenger drags her back to the final days of Samantha Early throughout her training, observing the miserable teenagers final days, as well as the home life of the girl who torments her to the point of suicide, viewing both girl’s troubled lives with cold distant sadness, but without mercy. Mara feels compelled to try and save the doomed girl, all whilst steadily falling into the dark world of Fear.
Messenger of Fear recaptures the dark, dank sense of mystery and misery that the GONE books first introduced us to, but weaving in the horrific sense of gore from the BZRK – This is classic Michael Grant throughout. In the Messenger as a character himself, we see strong influences of stoic, troubled characters, with more than a healthy anime feel about him. His caring, but removed personality makes him immediately likable, but also untrustworthy, the perfect enigmatic character, he reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones’ Magician, Howl. Mara is a headstrong, curious and emotionally charged character, who acts as the perfect counterbalance to the Messenger’s cold, distance. Her lack of understanding of the world that she’s been thrust into creates a dizzying sense of unease that spreads throughout the whole novel, where it feels like a whole unimaginable world is lurking just beyond the fog.
This is the first book in a series, and as such the universe is still subtle, hidden and elusive, but that makes the reader all the more hungry to delve deeper into it, always having the truth just dangled out of their reach. The whole book is infused with a tangible history that I can’t wait to read more about in later instalments, a dark, harrowing legacy that stretches through infinite time. The twists and turns of the story are fun, just hinted at enough to let you figure it out, but still kept far enough at bay that it never seems obvious, and the horror elements are delightfully detailed, described with excruciating precision and detail. There were passages of the book where I felt absolutely glued to the unfolding terror that was taking place before my eyes, which is the sign of a great writer of suspense! The high school setting, Samantha’s depression and suicide are handled with amazing care and the delicate hand that they deserve, never seeming trivial or a plot device. It’s harrowing to read, but achingly well written, with real heart and the deep rooted sadness that comes with inevitability – Like Mara and the Messenger, we’re forced to watch her slow descent into misery as helpless observers.
Messenger of Fear is a real triumph of Grant’s writing style, equal parts horror and mystery, with the lingering promise of more lurking through the murky fog. It’s gripping, forcing the reader to keep turning pages despite the disturbing events that spring though each chapter. Fantastic stuff, and I can’t wait for book two.
‘Til Next Time, Thanks for Reading!
P.S. You can find Michael Grant on Twitter here, and he’s ace to follow.
Publisher Electric Monkey (an imprint of Egmont) can be followed here.
Messenger of Fear is due for publication on the 28th of August.